Friday, July 1, 2016

Resisting the Pipeline. In the trenches. Six feet under -- literally. #StopSpectra

Why am I "6 feet under" next to a pipeline? Read on to find out! Photo credit: Brian Stilwell
On June 29, 23 of us participated in civil disobedience and were arrested at the West Roxbury pipeline being built by Spectra. About half of us actually got into the trench, right next to the pipeline, in order to stop work.

There are so many thoughts running through my mind about this experience and this action, it's hard to know where to start.

So I'll do this post in five parts. It will be longer than my usual posts, and this way you can skip ahead to the part or parts that interest you. Part 1): Why I protested and risked arrest. Part 2): Chronological summary of the morning and mourning. Part 3) Chronological summary of the afternoon and arrests. Part 4) Personal (and miscellaneous) reflections on the day. Part 5) Links to some press coverage. I will include some photos, with credits; click on any photo to see it enlarged.

Part I: Why I Protested and Risked Arrest

Everyone who participated Wednesday had their own reasons. Resist the Pipeline gives its own list of reasons to resist, which you can see here. My reasons are actually quite similar.

I have been an environmentalist for many years, but this was the first time that I ever did something like this -- risking arrest at a pipeline site. For me, this pipeline is particularly egregious. First of all, it's unconscionable to me that we are still building new gas pipelines when everybody knows that it's time to shift to clean, renewable energy sources. Climate change is happening even faster than most scientists anticipated, and in the end many lives will be lost (or changed for the worse). That's the most obvious reason: keep it in the ground, people. It's past time to cure our fossil fuel addiction, and new gas pipelines truly aren't helping.

This particular pipeline is also potentially dangerous. As summarized at Stop the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline:

"400 psi: The pressure in the pipeline that infamously exploded in San Bruno, Calif. in 2010. The enormous column of fire killed eight people, injured 66 people, destroyed 35 homes, and severely damaged an additional 17 homes.

"750 psi: The pressure in the proposed pipeline that Spectra Energy wants to put under the street in West Roxbury. If it is built, what would happen if it exploded? With industrial blasting across the street from the metering station, many residents are concerned about the personal safety of their families and the impact to their property values."

But this Spectra pipeline project is particularly egregious to me because of the "outside of the law" nature of it. Normally, a permitting process would have to be followed to dig 6 foot trenches all through the city streets. But this didn't happen. The City of Boston didn't permit Spectra to do this. Instead, Spectra was able to move forward because of FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission). As summarized by Resist the Pipeline, FERC, "which oversees and approves all gas pipeline projects, is a remote and unaccountable federal agency, with the authority to override all local concerns. In the words of Robert Kennedy Jr., FERC is a 'rogue agency, a captive agency,' controlled by the big energy corporations.'” 

The City of Boston has taken legal actions to try to stop Spectra from building this pipeline; meanwhile, the work on the pipeline continues. I find this appalling. Spectra should not operate with impunity, outside of the law. Spectra should not be able to dig up Boston city streets without Boston's permission! And so, I personally chose to engage in civil disobedience in lieu of an injunction; my body (and others' bodies) in the way of Spectra's work is the injunction! I consider civil disobedience a last resort. This was my last resort.

Part II: Chronological Summary of the Morning and Mourning

The day started with approximately 50 protesters marching to the current site of pipeline construction in West Roxbury. As we marched, we sang. Our intent was to go right into the site itself, right into the trench where the pipeline is if possible.

Marching to the site of the construction. Some of the clergy pictured, L to R: Rev. Peter Lovett (in rainbow stole); Rev. John Gibbons (in green stole); Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman with ukulele; Rev. Mariama White-Hammand (in black robe and clerical collar); I am in the yellow stole. Photo credit: Resist the Pipeline.

It was not possible. Not that morning. The police were there, waiting for us. There was a barricade of police with their bicycles, and there was no way to get past them without pushing through (which could technically be considered assault, so no one wanted to do that).

So we stood right there at the police tape -- just a bit past it, some of us -- and held a service of lamentation for the victims of climate change.

Singing at the police line. In red stole: Rev. Linsday Popper. In collar and black robe: Rev. Mariama White-Hammand. I am in the yellow stole. Photo credit: Peter Bowden.

Worship at the police line. Photo credit: Resist the Pipeline.
The service included powerful words from Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman (Temple Sinaiof Brookline); Rev. Ian Mevorach (Common Street Spiritual Center in Natick); Rev. Mariama White-Hammond (Bethel AME in Jamaica Plain); Rev. Rali Weaver (First Church and Parish of Dedham); and Rev. Lindsay Popper (Allin Congregational Church in Dedham).

Rev. Rali Weaver (left). Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman (center, with megaphone). Photo credit: Peter Bowden.

Rev. Ian Mevorach. Photo credit: Peter Bowden.

There was a powerful homily delivered by seminarian and renowned climate activist Tim DeChristopher; click on the Youtube video below to hear his words.



It was a beautiful and meaningful action up to this point with marching, singing, lamenting, and loving resistance. It had power in its own right. And yet, we were frustrated. Because part of our goal is stopping the work, and we simply could not get through the police to the pipeline.

We settled for a group photo:

Group photo after morning Worship Service for Victims of Climate Change. Photo credit: Peter Bowden.
Group photo having been accomplished, it was time to call it a day -- OR WAS IT?

Part III: Chronological Summary of the Afternoon and Arrests

We decided to regroup. We got together and talked about how were were feeling. Though we thought the worship service was meaningful and important, almost all of us were feeling frustrated. We had come together, ultimately, to resist and to stop the work on the pipeline for a while. And so, we decided we were not finished. We put together a plan to come back, a little more organized, a little more determined, and with the element of surprise on our side.

It worked. The line of police was gone. And so everyone went into action, as we had planned out during our regrouping period with roles a bit more parsed. Some of us went right into the trench, some stayed above. Some were in a supporting role without the intention of risking arrest that day. All told, 23 of us were arrested.

About half of those arrested went right into the trench, literally six feet under. I volunteered for that role along with Tim DeChristopher, Karenna Gore (Director, Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and daughter of Al Gore) Rev. John Gibbons (First Parish in Bedford), Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, John Bell (Buddhist dharma teacher), Brian Stilwell (Associate Program Director, Alliance for Climate Education), and a few others whose names I don't yet know.

I can't speak for the others, but I felt moved to volunteer for this role because of Tim DeChristopher's words, comparing the mass grave being dug in Pakistan (in anticipation of the deaths that will result from this summer's coming heat) to the trench of the pipeline, which is effectively a mass grave for all who will suffer and die from the global climate catastrophe. His words spoke to me about the urgency of the situation in a way that made it more vivid. I wanted to be part of creating this imagery.

In the trench: Top, L to R: John Gibbons, Brian Stilwell, Mariama White-Hammond. Lower, L to R: John Bell, Karenna Gore, Lara Hoke. I don't know the names of the others pictured here. And there were others not pictured here. Photo credit: Resist the Pipeline.

The police came quickly. The people lying outside of the trench (at ground level) were arrested first -- because they were the easiest people to get to. Those of us in the trench were told that we were, in fact, under arrest; it just took a bit longer to get us out of there.

Here's a video "summary" of the action (created by Kori Feener, called "Digging Mass Graves in West Roxbury"), with the words spoken by Tim DeChristopher that morning:




We were driven off in police vans (aka "paddy wagons" -- but that is an ethnic slur, lest we forget) in groups. The arrestees went to three different stations (I believe), somewhat randomly, but somewhat by timing of arrest. I went to the Hyde Park station with four others. 

My experience with the police was as positive as such a thing can be; they were professional and appropriate. The plasticuffs hurt a little, but that's just because they are inherently uncomfortable. (My recent carpal tunnel surgery didn't help.) The ride in the police van isn't fun; it's inherently unsafe back there. There are no seatbelts, and you're sitting sideways with your hands cuffed. You have to brace yourself with your feet to keep from flying around. I was reminded, of course, of the tragic death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and how easy it would be to injure someone if you intentionally took them on a "rough ride". 

Once at the station, they take away all of your possessions, including shoes. Worst of all, they took away our glasses. This left me feeling pretty vulnerable, because I really am quite visually impaired. But that's just what they do. Mug shots. Fingerprinting. We were there from about 2:30 p.m. until about 7:15 p.m. They did bring us ham and cheese sandwiches to eat and milk to drink, which was sweet. Of course, as a vegan, this didn't really work for me. (Turns out jail isn't a great place for near-sighted vegans. Who knew?)

I must say that the people in support roles were wonderful. It was so amazing to have people waiting for us when we got out, to cheer us on and get us to our cars and so forth. Most people who get arrested don't have anything so nice waiting for them. Our supporters even took this picture of the five of us who were driven off together, after our release.

Release!At Hyde Park. Photo credit: Resist the Pipeline.

Addendum of General Gratitude: I am so impressed by, and thankful to, all the Resist the Pipeline people who have done the groundwork that led to this, the final action of "escalation week". Cathy Hoffman is the lead trainer for Resist The Pipeline, and she provided wonderful Nonviolent Civil Disobedience training. She was also a big reason that we regrouped so effectively. Rev Marla Marcum is an organizer for the Resist the Pipeline and a founder at the Climate Disobedience Center. She, too, was a key organizer for the day. Neither Cathy nor Marla is paid to do the Resist work. This is an amazing volunteer-led and -driven effort.

There are many clergy, UUs and others, who have been a part of this from day one too. Some of them were part of the March 25 action, in which 16 clergy were arrested. Two UU ministers who have been an important part of Resist from the beginning are Rev. Anne Bancroft (of the Theodore Parker Church, UU, in West Roxbury) and Rev. Martha Niebanck (Minister Emerita of First Parish in Brookline). Folks from UU Mass Action have been a part of it, and many more. There are a lot of great people out there who have been working on this resistance for quite some time. There is a good article in UU World on some of the UU involvement early-on.

Part IV: A Few Personal Reflections on the Day

I really have written enough. But I just can't stop myself. Here are a few more personal, eclectic thoughts about the day.

First, the best thing about activism is the people you meet. I really got to know some wonderful people on Wednesday, but in particular I got to meet my fellow cellmates. They are four amazing people. I knew one of them a little bit before, but now I know him much better. And the other three were totally new to me. Such amazing souls... And now I know them! That's a win, no matter what else happens.

Mariama White-Hammond in trench. Photo credit: Lara Hoke
Second, it was an interesting thing to be arrested with Karenna Gore; she was right next to me in the trench, in fact. Back in college, in 1989, I spent a semester as an intern for Senator Al Gore. Funny thing is, back then, I thought his environmentalism was kind of silly, kind of over-the-top. I liked him in spite of it, not because of it! Sad, but true. So it's fitting that all these years later, I'd meet his daughter doing some fool thing like getting arrested on behalf of "protecting the environment"! I spoke to Karenna just long enough to let her know about my internship with her dad; she is clearly a bright and committed person.

Third, it was an interesting thing to be arrested with (and share a cell with) Rev. Mariama White-Hammond because I went to seminary with her mother many years ago. Mariama is just an amazing person and all I can say is "wow". She's going to set the world on fire, in a good way! To the right is a picture of her in the trench, being fierce.

Fourth, points two and three above prove that I'm old. How did I suddenly become the "I used to know your mom/dad" person?

Fifth, when I volunteered to go into the trench, my understanding was that the area where we would enter was about waist deep, and then we'd walk down to the part that was 6 feet deep. Surprise! Turned out the only spot where we could enter quickly was the 6-foot-deep part. Given my age, my girth, and the fact that I still had stitches in my hand from surgery, I never would have volunteered for this had I known. But hey... once you've said you'll do it, you gotta do it, right? So I jumped in, and through a near-miracle I didn't injure myself. Lesson learned for me is: Don't underestimate yourself. You can do more than you think you can!

Sixth, almost everything about the experience of getting arrested (this was my first time) reminded me of my initiation into the US Navy. And that is kind of sad. (Actually, getting arrested as a civil disobeyer was better because they weren't yelling scary and mean things at me like the people running my naval orientation were!) Shout out to all those who have enlisted recently and who are being treated harshly. I hope we can stop doing that someday soon.

Seventh, and finally, I was once on the other side of this protest thing. That is, my first three years in the US Navy were spent as a special agent with NCIS. I never had to deal with protesters in that role. However, in my fourth and last year in the Navy, I had a desk job at the Naval Education and Training Center in Newport, RI. There was going to be a protest by peace activists; I can't remember the particulars -- this was '93 or '94 -- but I believe perhaps a submarine with nuclear weapons was in port? I don't recall. In any case, we knew there would be peace activists coming to protest. The Captain in charge of the base knew that I'd been in NCIS, and so he thought perhaps it would be useful to have me in the "command center" for the day of the protest. (I wasn't one of the police at the actual line of arrest/protests; I was back in the "command center" where we were discussing what to do and not to do.) I remember a few people mocking the protesters. But what really stays with me is what the Captain said in response. He said something like, "These are good citizens. They're doing what they think is right. They're doing their job, and we're doing our job. Have respect." It might be the only memory I have from my Navy days that makes me feel verklempt. I wish could remember the Captain's name! He was an older man, and this was a long time ago, so I'm guessing he's gone now. But I'm grateful for this memory, and the reminder that sometimes at least some of the people on the law enforcement side "get it" and have sympathy that you're doing what you feel you must. (And these days I protest with Veterans For Peace, so life is a wondrous and mysterious journey.)

Part V: Links to some press/media coverage

Here are some links to media coverage so far. I might add to this as I learn about new articles and videos.

AP article: "Al Gore's Daughter, Karenna Gore, Among 23 Arrested in Pipeline Protest"

Boston Globe: "Al Gore's daughter arrested in Boston pipeline protest

Democracy Now: "Tim DeChristopher Arrested Again in 'The Age of Anticipatory Mass Graves' for Climate Victims"

Fox News Boston (video): "Al Gore's daughter in court after arrest at Boston pipeline protest"

Women in the World (in association with the NY Times): "Al Gore's daughter Karenna arrested in Boston"

5 comments:

TLP said...

I can't tell you how proud I am of you.

Barbara Ford said...

Thank you, Lara. I was particularly touched by your memory of the naval captain telling his people to about the good people who were protesting. I've felt some degree of that attitude with some of the officers in my experience. It's good to be reminded of our common humanity.

brian gay said...

What a thoughtful piece - thank you so much for taking action and thank you for sharing your thoughts for those who weren't present to read.

Nancy Mulvey said...

Lara, what an amazing recounting of your experience. Like so many others, I agree on the issues but have never been brave or committed enough to translate those thoughts into action. Many many thanks for being willing to do so. I never knew that they take your glasses as well as other possessions, nor that the rides in police vans are uniformly "rough rides" when you can't hold onto anything. Hooray for you and the other folks in the trenches of action!

Claire Galkowski said...

Thank you Lara! I am also writing an essay about my experience (also my first arrest, though I didn't get in the hole). I will be borrowing some of your captions- thanks for filling in some blanks on names!
The lady behind you in the hole is Nora Collins, the 20 year old daughter of RTP leader Chuck Collins.
You can find more pictures and videos that I took (some in the Paddy wagon, some in the holding cell, as I was able to wriggle one of my hand out of the cuffs, thanks to my arresting officer and lots of sweat) https://goo.gl/photos/rvvFT48ZE6YdM7nD9
- from your fellow UU (Sherborn and now Needham) Claire Galkowski